Updated: Sep 28, 2021
The poker machine of life randomly chose me, yet again, for jury duty recently. It was my third call-up. The last time, I served; and it was an interesting experience, so I was looking forward to serving again today.
Everything went like clockwork. I walked to the bus-stop, and there was the bus (no waiting in 8 degrees Celsius!). The bus arrived near the university's city campus, and I was able to get a coffee before appearing. When I arrived, the sheriffs opened the doors and let everyone in. It was all extremely COVID-safe, which made me feel very secure.
Just over 40 people were called up with me (just in case people didn't show up, despite the fines), and we watched a video which explained what was to happen, along with information from the sheriff. There was absolute clarity about what we could expect.
I like that; if you let people know what to expect, it lowers any feelings of anxiety.
We were briefly told about the case; and I won't repeat all the details, but it got me thinking about the issues around consent.
So, imagine, if you will ....
Two young adults meet at work, and become friends. One moves away, but comes home for their holidays, and catches up with all the usual people. They spend time with family, and time with friends. The two former workmates catch up, too, over a few drinks. So that no-one has to drive home drunk, those drinks are takeaways from the local, and they're consumed at the workmate's home.
This story is not unusual. I remember making friends with women I worked with, and going out for drinks after work. We'd stay over at each other's places, even sleeping in each other's beds (we were secure in our heterosexuality!). I never thought that I'd be leading a friend on, by sleeping over. Maybe I was naïve? I distinctly remember one friend, who had black satin sheets on her bed, just in case she got lucky ...
Anyhow, the two workmates in our hypothetical story get tipsy, and go to bed - in separate rooms. Now, I don't see how this could be misconstrued. You go to your room, you close the door, you go to sleep. That's if you think you're just friends, and there is no way that your former workmate is into you.
But, in that other room, there's someone who can't get to sleep. They're lying there, thinking about you in the other room. They're wondering if you feel the same way. That's if they are of a romantic disposition.
Maybe they're not romantically inclined. Maybe, they are just wanting to have sex, and there is another person in their home, who is practically comatose. Maybe they're thinking that this other person won't even wake up. Maybe, they have even drugged their friend, so they can use their body without consent.
Now that I start to think about these other perspectives, I can see that the situation is getting pretty scary. I'm thinking about that visitor in the spare room, who is completely oblivious to their host's thoughts, feelings, and urges. That visitor is incredibly vulnerable. I realise that I was unbelievably lucky to not find myself in the same position, all those times I went to a friend's place after a few drinks.
When you stay over at someone else's home, you are at their mercy. They know the layout of their home; you don't. They could have all sorts of things hidden, like cameras (or worse, webcams), restraints, and weapons. Now that my imagination is taking over, I can see how this situation could get out of hand very quickly.
But there is a flipside (as you know, with me, there always is). When you invite someone into your home, you allow them to know where you live. If they are stalker material (or even worse), then you might have no escape from them. I can see that situation getting out of hand just as quickly! The host can be incredibly vulnerable too.
It gets me back to those two workmates, friends, in our hypothetical. You see, the visitor trusted their host, because they had become friends. And the host trusted their visitor, for the same reason. Trust and friendship just don't seem to be reasonable justifications for letting someone into your home, or allowing yourself to be vulnerable with another person, when the situation goes badly awry.
And yet, without trust and friendship, we'd have no real relationships. These are the two things that every relationship requires; and there is nothing - nothing - more valuable in life.
So, it brings me back to that concept of "consent".
First, I come from a background of mental health research, so when I think of "consent", I actually think of "informed consent, freely given". When I have a potential research participant sitting before me, I give them an information statement, and I read it out to them, before asking for their consent. It must be written or recorded, it must be informed (as I've just explained, with the chance to ask questions and have them answered to satisfaction), and it must be freely given. There must be no hint of coercion or bribery. That person volunteers, knowing what is expected of them, and they have the right to withdraw their consent at any time.
Things in the rest of our world are much trickier. So often, people go out, have a few drinks, meet a stranger, and sex is expected. I remember many Friday nights out, when I'd meet a guy who seemed nice, but all he ever wanted was a "one-night-stand". The kids call them "hook-ups" now, apparently. And it's been a thing since long before me.
The "age of consent" is different all over the world, and even across the different states and territories of Australia. When I look at the ages of consent, I see teens who are just experiencing the development of their frontal lobes - they are not yet mature enough to clearly perceive situations, to read the intentions of others, or to make sound decisions. I do not see any reasoning behind giving them the right to consent to sex, when they are not even allowed to vote!
I don't think that, because teens might already be engaging in sexual activity, that it's a reason to say they are able to give informed consent to having sex.
To start with, who are their sexual models??? Are they watching their parents negotiate sexual advance and consent? Probably not. Maybe they watch TV and films, and get their modelling from those media. Maybe, they have discovered pornography, and that's where they're learning about sex. Sex education in schools has improved significantly since I was at school, but, the fact is, kids get their information from many other sources - most of which are online.
Is that how we want kids to learn about relationships and intimacy?
There was a very confronting (and explicit) article in The Sydney Morning Herald recently, about what constitutes rape, and what constitutes consent. It raised the questions of consent given by word and/or actions, and withdrawal of consent after it has already been given.
Incredulously, there are still people out there who think that "no" can mean "yes". It doesn't.
There are also some people out there, who think that rape within marriage is fine. It isn't.
And, there are some who think that if consent has been given, that it can't be withdrawn. It can.
So, as "Flight of the Concords" sing, "a kiss is not a contract", and neither is a sleepover at a friend's place. We need to start getting specific about what we want, and don't want, in our dealings with others. It's hard to do, when you want someone to like you, and you feel like you can't say "no". It's also hard to get the message across, when someone doesn't respect you enough to listen and back off.
I suppose, we just need to know - better - what we're getting ourselves into, before it's too late. It makes me think about the lessons of a particular tarot from the major arcana. I have used tarot for reflection for many years, and I often learn a valuable lesson when I stop and really consider the story of each card. If you're interested in meditating on what you can learn to arm yourself with a deeper wisdom for the future, you could look into reading about it, developing meditative practice, or doing a deep-dive workshop. If in doubt, you can contact me, or join an online community (you'll need to download the mobile app and click on the Groups tab).
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